Once upon a time, somewhere in the swamps of Jersey, there existed a punk band that changed it all. I am speaking, of course, of Lifetime. Active first from 1990 to 1997, and then again beginning in 2005, Lifetime’s influence on what we call the “scene” today is impossible to understate. This album, as well as Hello Bastards, the one that preceded it, were influential to a variety of artists whose names you might recognize. Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday has some of the band’s lyrics tattooed on his arm. Brand New lists Lifetime as “recommended listening” on their album Deja Entendu. The Gaslight Anthem references this album in their song “We Came to Dance.” Bands such as Rise Against, Silverstein and Fall Out Boy have recorded covers of their songs. The members of Thursday played some of their first shows with Lifetime, in Geoff Rickly’s basement. And then finally there is Saves the Day, whose debut album Can’t Slow Down comes as close as is humanly possible to imitating Lifetime’s sound without actual plagiarism.
So just why exactly do all of these musicians worship the ground that these five New Brunswick punks walk on? Simply put, because Lifetime did it first. Lifetime combined fast beats with catchy melodies, poppy guitar lines with just enough fuzz and crunch, and reflective lyrics with impassioned vocals. From the first track, “Turnpike Gates,” it is immediately obvious that Lifetime are deeply committed to delivering blistering tempos and to chronicling the struggles of love lost, love gained, and love not-so-sure. “Put down that phone / ‘Cause if you want me, just call out / ‘Hey boy,’” closes out the first song before four sharp raps on the snare bring on “Young, Loud and Scotty,” whose name is a play on a Dead Boys album. (Question: Am I the only one who hears huge similarities between this song and Saves the Day’s “Always Ten Feet Tall?”)
The band also addresses complaints against themselves in “How We Are” (one of my all-time favorite Lifetime tracks) and in “The Verona Kings.” “Well I heard you got us figured out / And now there’s talk about the band / But we don’t care / It’s how we are,” Ari Katz sings in the former song. “They don’t hear it / They don’t feel it / They don’t see it / Turn it up,” Katz wails on “The Verona Kings” to end the record.
The instrumentation on Jersey’s Best Dancers is nothing particularly spectacular or technically difficult, but for the style of music Lifetime is playing, it is nearly peerless. Keep in mind, please, when considering this album’s creativity, that it was released over twelve years ago. Katz’s vocals are delivered in a very raw and amateur way, but that is once again fitting with the musical style. Furthermore, the production is also rather rough, but once again that is excusable due to the style of music.
Fair warning: If you are starting to get excited about this band based mostly on my first two paragraphs, I must give a disclaimer. If you don’t have time for any pop-punk material with rougher production than Your Favorite Weapon, then this album may require you to slightly adjust your ears to let the music fully sink in. Since Lifetime embraces the hardcore DIY ethic just as much as they do sing-a-long choruses, the production on Jersey’s Best Dancers is pretty rough. Furthermore, Ari Katz’s yelp certainly takes some getting accustomed to. To those of you who are used to your vocals auto-tuned and your music delivered at pristine studio quality, I would recommend looking elsewhere for some new music. For those of you, however, who enjoy some of the bands and albums listed below, and would really like to check Lifetime out, by all means pick this up, and be sure to sit down and listen to the album a couple of times while reading the lyrics to fully decipher Katz’s every syllable.
This band is something great, something that not too many people seem to have discovered in recent years, something from what may be a bygone era of basement shows and busting your ass touring in a van and getting almost nowhere. Jersey’s Best Dancers, at twenty-three minutes and eleven seconds long, should be just enough to rock you to your core and question everything you thought you knew about pop-punk. I implore you, oh reader: forego the tenth pair of glitzy neon spandex jeans, and please, buy this album instead. It’s probably cheaper, and it will mean more to you eventually. I promise. Just let Lifetime work their magic:
Could it be such a night? The basement’s filled with kids, I don’t know Not beautiful, like your songs, But all awkward, alone and “don’t belong” Saw a vacant seat, sat down next to you, Thought of all the boys that wanted to…
From the inescapable sadness of “Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show,” quoted above, to the furious rage of “The Boy’s No Good,” to the fast-paced fun of “How We Are,” this album deserves your full attention. You might never be the same again.